Groups Fume That Medicare Cuts May Pay for Trade Bill

Senior and provider groups accuse Congress of using the insurance program as a piggy bank for other areas.

MIAMI, FL - MARCH 20: Union members and community activists protest outside the Miami Dade College where the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and the college were hosting a moderated conversation with U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew on March 20, 2015 in Miami, Florida.
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Dylan Scott
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Dylan Scott
April 21, 2015, 2:13 p.m.

Seni­or and pro­vider groups are angry that Medi­care cuts will help pay for one of the trade bills that Con­gress will soon con­sider and are wa­ging a last-ditch ef­fort to nix the cuts.

The Trade Ad­just­ment As­sist­ance reau­thor­iz­a­tion bill hasn’t re­ceived as much at­ten­tion as the fast-track trade au­thor­ity bill, but Demo­crats see it as a pri­or­ity: The pro­gram helps work­ers who have been put out of a job be­cause of for­eign trade with job-train­ing and place­ment as well as health-in­sur­ance costs. The House and Sen­ate are ex­pec­ted to move the bill in tan­dem with the fast-track trade meas­ure, said an aide to Demo­crat­ic Sen. Ron Wyden, who hashed out the trade deal with Sen. Or­rin Hatch and Rep. Paul Ry­an, both Re­pub­lic­ans.

But on Tues­day, seni­or and pro­vider groups star­ted cri­ti­ciz­ing the pro­pos­al. They’re un­happy be­cause about $700 mil­lion of the $2.9 bil­lion cost would be off­set by in­creas­ing the cuts to Medi­care au­thor­ized by the auto­mat­ic budget cuts known as se­quest­ra­tion in fisc­al year 2024 by 0.25 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to a Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice score of the House bill.

“Ap­par­ently us­ing Medi­care as a piggy bank to pay for everything un­der the sun has be­come the new le­gis­lat­ive norm for Con­gress,” Max Richt­man, pres­id­ent and CEO of the Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee to Pre­serve So­cial Se­cur­ity and Medi­care, said in a state­ment to Na­tion­al Journ­al. “Rather than bal­an­cing pri­or­it­ies or con­sid­er­ing a penny of new rev­en­ue, con­gres­sion­al lead­ers are pro­pos­ing to once again fun­nel Medi­care re­sources in­to un­re­lated pro­grams and fixes—this time it’s the trade ad­just­ment as­sist­ance pro­gram.”

A co­ali­tion of pro­vider groups, in­clud­ing the Amer­ic­an Hos­pit­al As­so­ci­ation and the Amer­ic­an Med­ic­al As­so­ci­ation, sent a let­ter to sen­at­ors Tues­day op­pos­ing the bill.

“Hos­pit­als, phys­i­cians, nurs­ing homes, and home health and hos­pice pro­viders have already ab­sorbed hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars in cuts to the Medi­care pro­gram in re­cent years,” they wrote. “Ad­di­tion­ally alarm­ing is the use of Medi­care cuts to pay for non-Medi­care-re­lated le­gis­la­tion, a pre­ced­ent that we be­lieve is un­wise.”

Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Warner is work­ing on an al­tern­at­ive pro­pos­al to re­place the Medi­care cuts, his spokes­man Kev­in Hall said. His pro­pos­al would try to re­cu­per­ate more money from real-es­tate taxes by ramp­ing up re­port­ing re­quire­ments. The Sen­ate Fin­ance Com­mit­tee will mark up the bill Wed­nes­day.

As of Tues­day af­ter­noon, the news ap­par­ently hadn’t made the rounds in the Demo­crat­ic Sen­ate caucus, some mem­bers of which are already skep­tic­al of the broad­er trade deal. Demo­crat­ic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who has been a pro­ponent of reau­thor­iz­ing TAA, was sur­prised when told Medi­care cuts are set to help pay for the bill.

“We’re still work­ing through all of this. We need a strong bill that sup­ports re­train­ing for people who have lost their jobs,” she said. “I cer­tainly don’t sup­port Medi­care cuts “¦ so we’ll have to take a look at that.”

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